The European Union spent €664m (£536m) directly on publicity and communication in 2014, according to research from Eurosceptic group Business for Britain.
The spending came through budgets “where their primary purpose was promoting the EU and the political priorities of the Union", a report by the organisation said.
According to the research, the EU committed €3.9bn to budgets which contained provisions for EU promotional spending and “corporate communication of the political priorities of the Union”. That's a rise on the €2.4bn available to the EU for the same purpose in 2008.
EU promotional budgets were provided for “enhancing public awareness of the Common Agricultural Policy” (€11m), “Fostering European Citizenship” (€24.8m) and a “House of European History” (€9.7m), while in 2013 the EU gave €12.7m to organisations who promoted the idea of "ever closer union".
Matthew Elliott, Business for Britain's chief executive, said:
With UK taxpayers contributing more and more to the EU Budget, it is staggering that Brussels is throwing away our hard-earned money on propaganda promoting the European project. When Parliament debates the EU Referendum Bill in the autumn, it is vital that MPs prevent the EU from using its huge PR budget to brainwash voters and insidiously influence the result.
The report also showed both the media and independent academics have referred to the EU’s self-publicity campaigns as “propaganda”.
This term is applicable, it said, as EU material "rarely offers a neutral account of the facts but instead presents a highly biased account of both the EU and its political objectives in effort to 'improve public perceptions of the Union'".
As the second largest contributor to the EU budget, the UK would have been responsible for €443m of the fund. Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said:
Taxpayers will be livid that European bureaucrats apparently have nothing better to do than spend other people's money to polish up their damaged reputation. They should spend less time telling everybody how fantastic the EU is and more time working out how to solve the many conundrums the continent faces and why so many Brits want to leave.
A spokesperson for the European parliament, however, said:
As any modern public body it is our duty to inform citizens about the use of public money, but – in the case of the European Parliament - also about the impact of (future) legislation on their day-to-day lives.
We do not agree with the term 'self-promotion', which gives any communication effort a negative connotation from the offset. We think it is in the interest of citizens to provide accessible information so that they can make well informed decisions during European elections.
He added that European communication efforts are targeting "over 500m citizens in 28 countries, speaking 23 languages. This costs money".
The findings may nevertheless raise questions about the role the EU could play in influencing voters during the upcoming EU referendum.
The government has been criticised by MPs for not respecting the official “purdah period”, while MPs have warned the European Commission could “drop a bombshell” by publishing pro-EU material on its website before the vote.